I’m not going to sugarcoat this because this is somehow a blog about yoga and sociology. I’m not going to pursue some path of dispassion because I think either mindfulness or social science demand it. I think that the election of Donald Trump to the highest office in the land is an unmitigated disaster. It’s a bleak and dark period that severely threatens the experiment that is this republic on these shores. No amount of civility of mere “niceness” will blunt the impact of this.
I’d been loathe to face students about this disaster. Previous generations, mine included, but moreso the ones ahead of mine, have saddled them with problems enough: an “armed madhouse” of foreign policy, anthropogenic climate disruption, Gilded Age levels of inequality, and deep racism. Upon this powder keg we have placed a leader with a short fuse, and as technology marches forward, a leadership which seeks to turn the clocks backward. Welcome to the Hunger Games. May the odds be ever in your favor. My choices, which have led me to teach in a public university as adjunct faculty, hobble my efforts to offer a political education. It’s unethical, by sins of omission or commission, to adopt a stance of advocacy in the classroom. How does this professionally precarious professor offer hope and constructive alternatives while avoiding charges of partisanship? Playing safe and nice is precisely that, safe.
It’s a student of mine who’s inadvertently indicated a familiar path through this. It’s a student who’s returned me to something I know, the “influence in repose” that comes with knowledge. I’m reminded here of my post on “The Useless Tree.”
Last week I checked in with students about their feelings about the election. I mention three salient responses as instructive:
- One student is a dual national by virtue of his mother’s marriage to an American. “We just had a coup there,” he quipped of his country of origin, “so I’d rather this result than that.” It’s all relative, I suppose.
- Another student said he was grateful for the success of initiative petitions in this state. Indeed, I heard on DemocracyNow! that states had voted on over 160 initiative petitions, and that historically, such things are more common with greater inequality. We are at the highest levels of social inequality since the Gilded Age.
- Lastly, in response to many students expressing an attitude of “wait and see,” one student remarked, “People of color can’t wait and see. Immigrants can’t, Muslims can’t, LGBTQ people can’t.”
Today, reflecting on the student walkout where I teach, I wrote the following on Facebook:
What is salient to me in the reaction of aware students to the outbreak of hate in the wake of Trump’s ascendance is their humility. Many who spoke out at a campus protest Wednesday disclaimed their knowledge and ability to covey it. “I’m not a public speaker…” many began. “I’m just a [fill in the blank with the name of a marginal community]…” They know what they don’t know, yet they are beautifully articulate in their authenticity. I feel we have bequeathed to this generation who did not vote for him the worst mess of any of our lives. They do not disappoint in rising to this, and I consider it a privilege to journey with them. Please refuse the narrative of navel–gazing privileged young people. Please support their self–direction as surely as Ella Baker supported SNCC, and my professors supported me. They do not accept easy answers, nor should they. Please listen to them.
On “the morning after,” I wrote the following on Facebook:
The important question now is what hope to offer all whom this outcome “others,” in a nation which has chosen easy lies over hard truths. I don’t think it’s Democrats who need to do soul–searching as much as all of America. It’s not mere “division” that characterizes this outcome, but deliberate, dangerous polarization. It’s deliberate, dangerous polarization at a time we and the world can ill afford it. Perhaps it’s the same sort of hope, against hope, engaged by our sisters and brothers of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, holding by their fingernails to shreds of dignity in a world gone selfish, profligate, and mad.
I’ve waited a decade of teaching for students to become this aware. I’ve waited over thirty years since I was a student myself to see this level of activism among students. I’d rather such leadership appeared under different circumstances, but we do not choose our times. What is important is how we spend our time in what we’re given.
Do we, like my students, cultivate an awareness of the wider world, including the wide world within our borders? Do we look for opportunities for the successes available to us? Do we accurately perceive the forces arrayed against us and respond appropriately?
When politics and economics fail, civil society may avail. We who have tools to share, experiences to offer, perspectives to articulate, must do so. But we must check our privilege, and age is but another vector of privilege. Elise Boulding was prescient to suggest this in her millennially optimistic Cultures of Peace (2000) Young adults will one day run this world, inheriting a past very different from our own. Our experiences may inform, but never fully prepare for a world we could scarcely anticipate. Let’s commit to listen to them and their concerns, thus clinging to shreds of hope to redeem ourselves somewhat from this mess we’ve created for them.